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About this Booklet
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Playing the Game
The game begins with each player making four peculiar moves: The
three pawns in front of the rooks and queen mo ve two spaces forward;
the queen also moves two spaces directly forward, to stand right b ehind the advanced queen pawn. The two players then play alternately,
each time moving one piece in accordance with its normal mo ve.

Courier Chess

Captures are made by moving a piece onto a square occupied by an
enemy piece. All pieces except the pawn (previously described) ca pture by using their normal moves.
If a player’s King is threatened with capture, “ check” is declared, and
the player must move so that his King is no longer threatened. If there
is no possible move to relieve the King of the threat, he is in
“checkmate” and the game is over. Even if the King is not in imm ediate threat, but any possible move would subject him to capture
(stalemate), he has lost the game.
If a pawn reaches the opposite side of the board, it is immediately
promoted, being replaced by a medieval queen (a relatively weak
A draw occurs when it can be demonstrated that neither pla yer has
sufficient means to win the game.

Also known as

The Courier Game

Cover Photo: Lucas van Leyden’s “The Chess Players” 1508
For further Explorations in Courier Chess
go to
© 2008 Rick Knowlton

The Great 8 x 12 Chess
Of Medieval Europe
For information about Chess Variants throughout the world
and free copies of this booklet, visit

Courier Chess
Courier chess thrived in central Europe, especially in Germany, from
the 12th through the 18th century. It was pla yed alongside the medieval
form of chess brought in from the Islamic world, and persisted well into
the modern era, alongside the chess we play today.
The novel piece in this game was the courier, which moved like our
modern bishop. It was considered so important that it stood among the
tallest pieces, and was said to be the most powerful.
In addition, two other pieces were added: the sage and the jester.

The Pieces and Their Moves
The pieces shown here are taken from L ucas van Leyden’s famous
painting of 1508, known as “The Chess Players.”
Here is a picture of each piece, with its
English name, its old German name, and
the move it makes on the chessboard.
We’ll begin with the pieces more familiar
to modern chess players:
The King (König) moves one space in any
direction. He does not have the power to
castle, and must always move so that he is not threatened with captur e
(“in check”).
The Rook (Roche) moves as many
squares as it wishes, forward, backward, left or right, until it reaches
another piece, or the end
of the board. Exactly like
the modern Rook.
The Knight (Reutter) moves in a peculiar L-shape: two spaces forward,
backward, right or left, plus one
square at a right angle. It can not be blocked by
another piece. This move also is exactly like its
modern counterpart.


The Pawn (Soldat) moves one space
forward, but captures forward/
diagonally, like a modern pawn.
X It does not move two spaces forward (except as explained later),
and promotes only to a medieval
queen (see following page).

Now let’s look at some more ancient and unusual pieces and moves .
The Courier (Kurierer), for which this game was
named, moves exactly like our modern
bishop: as many spaces as it wishes d iagonally, but not able to jump over
pieces in its way.
The Medieval Bishop
(Schütze) — not to be confused with the courier — has
a move rather strange to the modern
chess player. He moves two spaces diagonally, no
more and no less, and has the power of jumping
over a piece if it stands in his way. This peculiar
move can only take him to 12 possible squares on
the entire 8 by 12 chessboard.
The Medieval Queen
(Königin) moves
only one space diagonally. Very different from the modern queen, but typ ical of chess before the 16th ce ntury.
The Sage (Man) moves
exactly like
the king, but is able to be
captured like
any other piece.
The Jester
moves only one space forward, backward, left or right.
Here is the initial array of the
pieces (K=King; Q=Medieval
Queen; S=Sage; J=Jester;
C=Courier; B=Medieval Bishop;
Kt=Knight; R=Rook; P=Pawn).
Notice that the sage, king, queen
and jester all face each other d irectly across the board. The
white king stands on a white
square, and the black king stands
on black.

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